Enrollment up 8.8 percent

By Todd DeFeo

Enrollment in Henry County Schools is up almost 9 percent from last year and the system's student-teacher ratio is also on the rise, school officials say.

Newly released enrollment numbers show Henry County Schools added 2,612 students for the current school year, an increase of 8.8 percent from last year, spokeswoman Cindy Foster said. The growth has left administrators trying to find classroom space and hire additional teachers.

"In schools that are at or over capacity, adding a classroom means adding a trailer," Foster said.

Currently, more than 300 portable classrooms are in use throughout the school system, Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Preston Malcom said. But, in the hopes of curbing the use of portable classrooms, the school system has a growth plan in place to build future schools.

Local schools have seen exponential growth in recent years. In five years, Henry County Schools' enrollment increased by almost 9,000 students n from 23,627 students in the 2000-01 school year to the 32,379 students for the current year.

In the 1970s, the school system averaged 6,246 students each year. So far this decade, between the 2000-01 school year and the current year, the system has averaged 27,792 students n an increase of almost 445 percent.

By the 2011-12 school year, the school system plans on building 14 new schools, Malcom said. Two new elementary schools are slated to open next school year, following the four schools n two elementary, one middle and a high school n that opened in August.

But more immediately, the enrollment increase has highlighted the teacher staffing throughout the school system.

"Since we hired the number of teachers to have near the maximum class size in each class, we have had to move teachers around the system to adjust staffing and have had to hire teachers also," Foster said.

Hiring new teachers, however, isn't especially easy "after the beginning of the school year," Malcom said. "From the time the need is identified, the position advertised and a portable classroom leased, placed and connected, it can take up to four weeks."

But this year, Malcom contends there is an additional challenge to hiring additional teachers.

"This year we hired fewer teachers and had to allow the student-teacher ratio to approach maximum allowable sizes because of decreased funding," Malcom said.